Ready-meals are ‘nutritionally chaotic’ study finds

Ready-meals are ‘nutritionally chaotic’ study finds

Issued: Tue, 10 Jul 2012 10:00:00 BST

Supermarket ready-meals are ‘nutritionally chaotic’, according to a study by scientists at the University of Glasgow which calls for improvements to be made.

Researchers led by Professor Mike Lean, Chair of Nutrition in the School of Medicine, looked at four different ready-meals across four different ranges at the five major UK supermarket chains of Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury, Morrisons and the Co-op.

The energy contents of macaroni cheese, lasagne, cottage pie and chicken tikka masala ready-meals across the healthy, value, normal and special ranges, where available, were examined. In addition, the nutritional information for energy, salt, sugar and saturated fat levels in the different meals and ranges from Tesco were examined in more detail.

The researchers determined the acceptable energy content of a ‘meal’ should be 500-700kcal – around 30 per cent of the Guideline Daily Amount (GDA) for a woman as specified by the Food Standards Agency. For the meal to be nutritionally-balanced, 30 per cent of the GDA should be present for all other nutrients.

The results varied widely: of the 67 ‘meals’ tested, almost half (32) did not contain enough calories to constitute a meal, while others (10) had over 700kcal.

Tesco’s Chicken Tikka and Korma with rice contains 1,395kcal per serving, with 98 per cent GDA for saturated fat and 80 per cent GDA for salt, while its ‘value’ Shepherd’s Pie only has 210kcal per serving.

In many cases, the various supermarkets’ special or finest ranges contain 80-100 per cent GDA for saturated fat. The ready-meals chosen were all sold as ‘meals’ with no instructions to add any other ingredients in order to achieve nutritional balance. Some packaging even showed vegetables which were not included in the ready-meal.

Prof Lean said: “A consumer with some understanding of nutrition and GDAs might realise these meals are unsuitable for normal or regular consumption, however, a manufacturer could easily modify the recipes to satisfy nutritional criteria without reference to the retailer or consumer.

“There is little justification for providing nutritionally unbalanced meals if they can be improved and remain attractive and affordable.”

The UK ready-meal market is worth more than £26 billion annually but regular consumption of convenience foods has been associated with less healthy diets, obesity and as well as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.

Prof Lean proposes steps to establishing agreed nutritional standards for ready-meals, including:

  • Establishing a sensible size for all meals unless labelled otherwise (i.e. a notional standard of 600kcal) with a sensible range of +/- 100kcal,
  • Assuring the public that, unless otherwise stated, all meals are nutritionally balanced for all nutrients – i.e. same GDA as for energy,
  • Establishing agreement that no meal should contain more than 10 per cent GDA above the per cent GDA for energy, salt or saturated fat,
  • Ensuring that all caterers have basic training in nutrition and use of nutrient-content tables,
  • Agreeing to independent random checking of nutrient content of meals.

Prof Lean said: “Perceptions of busy lifestyles and time-scarcity have resulted in a shift away from traditional family meals towards convenience foods, but these are often high in dietary fat, calories and sodium and low in fruits, vegetables, fibre, calcium and iron.

“Generating simple standards for ready-meals would cost little, upset few and would help consumers. The need for food manufacturers to consider nutrition should be pretty obvious by now.”

The study, ‘Time-scarcity, ready-meals, ill-health and the obesity epidemic’ is published in the journal Trends in Food Science & Technology.


For more information contact Stuart Forsyth in the University of Glasgow Media Relations Office on 0141 330 4831 or email stuart.forsyth@glasgow.ac.uk

 

Notes to Editors

Click on the link for a copy of the paper, Celnik, D, Gillespie, L, Lean, M., Time-scarcity, ready-meals, ill-health and the obesity epidemic, Trends in Food Science & Technology (2012), doi: 10.1016/j.tfs.2012.06.001

Professor Lean and entrepreneur Donnie Maclean of Eat Balanced recently demonstrated the relative ease of making foods healthier by creating nutritionally-balanced pizzas. The story was reported on BBC News Online - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-18663969

The Food Standards Agency recommends energy consumption should be spread over four eating occasions:

Breakfast – 20% of daily energy intake

Lunch – 30%

Evening meal – 30%

Snacks – 20%

 

Extracts from paper:

 

Table 3. Energy contents (kcal) of four common ready-meals in five major UK supermarkets

 

Range

Asda

Tesco

Sainsbury

Morrisons

CO-OP

 

Macaroni cheese

Healthy

352

271

352

471

Value/economy

366

410

466

457

Normal

400

765

755

720

500

Special

744

735

 

Lasagne

Healthy

433

425

319

381

335

Value/economy

366

340

381

393

330

Normal

476

554

600

515

Special

410

427

589

715

570

 

Cottage pie

Healthy

200

375

349

300

360

Value/economy

267

270

219

235

275

Normal

478

585

461

395

Special

590

440

371

446

455

 

Chicken tikka masala

Healthy

366

415

400

300

345

Value/economy

585

Normal

731

875

552

771

525

Special

835

652

827

  

Table 4. Nutritional information expressed as % Guideline Daily Amounts per serving provided to consumers by one major supermarket (Tesco).

 

%GDA

Healthy/light

Value/economy

Normal

Special

Macaroni cheese

Portion size (g)

200

300

400

450

Energy

14

21

38

37

Sugars

−3

3

4

9

Fat

21

24

46

44

Saturated fat

44

54

91

90

Salt

−9

30

22

43

 

Lasagne

Portion size (g)

400

300

400

700

Energy

21

17

28

21

Sugars

8

4

8

7

Fat

18

22

40

28

Saturated fat

32

39

74

33

Salt

33

33

42

37

 

Cottage pie/Shepherd's pie

Portion size (g)

450

300

450

430

Energy

19

11

29

22

Sugars

4

<1

1

<1

Fat

10

14

41

27

Saturated fat

15

18

63

39

Salt

25

25

42

52

 

Chicken tikka masala

Portion size (g)

400

400

550

500

Energy

21

29

44

42

Sugars

7

14

22

12

Fat

9

35

54

54

Saturated fat

14

41

67

68

Salt

22

37

58

50

Precise contents of these and other meals may vary over time. Current data available http://www.tesco.com/. Several different compositions are listed for the same meal in some cases.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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